Last week I was intending to write a posting about the 3 separate churches of what Mormons call the restoration (I prefer to call it the foundation, as the scriptures testify that the “restoration” is yet to come). This is because without starting to chip away at the traditions of our fathers which keep us tethered to the view that all is well in Zion, one cannot fully grasp the need for the servants to return with the fulness and prune the vineyard one last time prior to the Savior’s return.
However, I feel compelled to jump ahead for now and talk about Joseph. Truly his name has been, and will be known for good and evil throughout the world. In fact, the more information comes out about him the greater the stumbling-block he has become for many. Take, for example, the recent admission by the church in the essays on polygamy that he took upwards of 40 wives and that one of them was as young as 14. Apologists tie themselves up in knots trying to explain or justify these actions as being congruent with God’s commands.
Obviously, the church feels the need to defend Joseph at all costs. He was the prophet of the restoration and if he proves to be a false prophet then the truth claims of the church melt away like butter in the afternoon sun. However, I would suggest that there is a different way to view Joseph, one that doesn’t set up a “sudden death” scenario of right or wrong–one that takes a 2-part view of his life and that is supported by scripture.
The first part of Joseph’s ministry was brilliant. He conversed with heavenly messengers, brought forth the Book of Mormon, established the Church of Christ, received over 100 recorded revelations and sought to prepare a people to establish Zion and live the celestial law of consecration. During this time the fulness of the priesthood was restored at the Morley Farm in June 1831. The saints enjoyed and experienced many spiritual outpourings and blessings during the years leading up to the deadline for the redemption of Zion which was declared by Joseph to be September 11, 1836.
However, once the saints failed to live consecration and effectively rejected the fulness, all hell seemed to break loose with the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, the defilement of the Kirtland Temple and the general apostasy that occurred among the membership. In fact, the Lord had foreseen this when he said in D&C 64:21:
I, the Lord, will to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years, in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some.
It is no co-incidence that the date of this revelation is September 11, 1831.
Following the rejection of Zion, Joseph’s prophetic production declined precipitously. In fact after 1836 Joseph only records 12 revelations, none of which occurs in the last 3 years of his life.
The question is why? Isaiah has one answer and 2 Nephi clarifies the reason why.
For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. Isaiah 29:10
For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets: and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity. 2 Nephi 27:5
Is it possible, as suggested by scripture, that Joseph’s eyes were covered? That his prophetic gifts were curtailed because of the iniquity of the people? When one carefully examines his life post rejection of Zion, one sees a very different Joseph. Although the date is somewhat unclear to scholars, it is around this time period that Joseph has what Oliver refers to as: “a nasty, filthy affair” with Fanny Alger and then starts to introduce polygamy to a few of the brethren.
To me it is telling that Joseph’s doctrinal innovations that cannot be fully justified by scripture started happening after Zion had been rejected, therefore leading to his eyes being covered. It is also telling to observe that Sidney Rigdon, whose job it expressly was to validate Joseph’s revelation via scripture, stopped doing so later in his life. Remember that The Lord had already revealed the Law of the Celestial Kingdom by early 1831, including the law of monogamy (D&C 42), and had promised Joseph and a few select others the other Comforter, even the promise of eternal life, two years later (D&C 88). What more does one need after having the law that leads to the establishment of Zion and results in the promise of celestial glory?
The idea that Joseph, in a state of blindness brought on by the iniquity of the people, could somehow introduce a false teaching or a false doctrine is anathema to most faithful Mormons. Having been taught from the pulpit that a prophet will never lead us astray it is inconceivable that anything he did would not have had the royal stamp of approval from on high.
Bear with me as we search the scriptures together and find out that not only was this possible, it was foreseen and prophesied.
Let’s start with 2 Samuel 7. The prophet Nathan is prophesying to King David about a servant who would do great things in a future day.
12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with they fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.
16 And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever.
So in this prophecy, a servant of the line of David (Davidic Servant) shall:
1 Build a temple.
2 Establish a Kingdom that will last forever.
3 Receive the promise of eternal life which is what happens when one becomes a Son or Daughter of God.
4 Commit iniquity. The scripture uses the word “if he commit iniquity” but “when he commit iniquity” is probably how we should read it. God knew beforehand what would happen, but to preserve the agency of the Davidic Servant, it is phrased in prophecy as an “if” instead of “when”. This also calls to mind the scripture in D&C 43:3 where the Lord says there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me. This suggests that the Lord knew Joseph would sin, and indeed Joseph told the church in 1843 that Hyrum held the office of prophet to the church by birth-right & he was going to have a reformation and the saints must regard Hyrum for he had authority. You can read the journals regarding that sermon here.
5 Retain the mercy of God, despite committing iniquity. It is amazing to contemplate how the servant could retain the mercy of God. I suppose I am teasing you a bit about my next post which will address the “why” a prophet could retain God’s mercy after committing iniquity. Stay tuned.
Some have argued that this servant is David’s son, Solomon, because he built a temple. We know that Solomon sinned having taken many wives who turned him away from the Lord. However, there is no record that Solomon received a promise of eternal life from God, or that he was promised that he would ever establish a kingdom that would last forever.
Some have also postulated that the prophecy points to Christ. However, we can discard this notion out of hand. Christ was the sinless one and he never built a temple.
In examining the evidence, however, Joseph Smith fits the profile perfectly if you allow for the possibility that he would commit iniquity by introducing a false doctrine! This scripture brings amazing insight into Joseph’s life and how we got off on the wrong track as a church with the spiritual wifery and polygamy. We don’t have to defend it anymore. It was an abomination, pure and simple. Could the following scripture actually apply to modern Mormonism?
Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment [false doctrine].
I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face:
As with all scripture there are multiple witnesses that testify of any particular truth. Moroni and Elijah both quoted Malachi when they appeared to Joseph. We tend to focus on the 4th chapter of that book, but chapter 2 would appear to be about Joseph. Note that I don’t pretend to know everything that is referenced in this chapter. Most prophecies have dual fulfillments. My comments here should be considered speculative. Use your own powers of discernment to determine the truth.
5 My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.
6 The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. [Joseph indeed turned many from iniquity in his early work as a prophet.]
7 For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
8 But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. [And what a stumbling block he was and still is today!]
9 Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law. [Recalls the prophecy that his name should be had for good and evil, and rightly so.]
10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?
11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
12 The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master [Joseph] and the scholar [Sidney], out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts. [And indeed both Joseph and Sidney were cut off–Joseph as the lamb to the slaughter, and Sidney as the scapegoat led off into the wilderness.]
13 And this have ye done again covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.
14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and wife of thy youth against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. [Ahah! This points right at the spiritual wife doctrine and polygamy. Joseph indeed dealt treacherously with Emma and caused many to stumble.]
15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. [The Lord is not pleased.]
16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away; for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts; therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. [Not pleased again for emphasis.]
17 Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD and he delighteth in them; or Where is the God of judgment? [Brigham taught that unless you followed the commandment–spiritual wifery–you could not enter the highest level of the celestial kingdom. Is this not exactly what the Lord is warning us against–calling the practice of an abomination righteousness?]
There are many other scriptures about Joseph sprinkled within the standard works. As a church we tend to focus on those with a positive spin, as opposed to those which could challenge our correlated view of him. He was a great man in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, the priesthood, the Church of Christ, and in trying to get the saints to establish Zion. When they failed to do so, as prophesied, things fundamentally changed. Joseph’s eyes were darkened, his prophetic gifts were restrained (but not necessarily eliminated), he introduced abominations that were a reflection of what the people were committing or desiring to commit.
We don’t need to defend Joseph’s spiritual wifery and polygamy. We don’t need to set up an either/or binary decision regarding Joseph’s prophetic calling. He was a prophet, he committed iniquity, he retained the mercy of God and he yet has work to do prior to the return of the Savior [see the Marvelous Work is a Future Event]. The Church has perpetuated the stumbling block of Joseph by trying to justify everything he did as coming from God. A more mature view comes from an understanding of scripture. We can defend and love him for what he did and what he will yet do. There is no need to defend his introduction of false doctrines, which also fulfills what the Lord promised in Section 4 verses 5 & 6 of the Book of Commandments where he said:
And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hears, I will work a reformation among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priestcrafts, and envyings, and strifes, and idolatries, and sorceries, and all manner of iniquities, and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.
And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto satan…
A topic for another day.
Again, I want to emphasize that only through searching the scriptures and paying heed to the Spirit can you come to a knowledge of the truth. This is the only way to not be deceived. I concede there may be errors in my interpretations, and you should not rely upon them in your searching.